When you see Ryan Leach out at bars, events or even banal places like the grocery store, you know it. He is a larger-than-life personality and gay man who has his hand in many different aspects of the Houston LGBTQ community. He is on the board of Equality Texas, the Mayors LGBTQ Advisory Council and writes — and sometimes models — for Outsmart Magazine.
Ryan woke up on Nov. 9, 2016 with a knot in his stomach. As an avid follower of American, and foreign, politics he was upset with the 2016 results. But instead of wallowing in the disappointment he felt, he turned the negative into a positive. He created Story Hole, a The Moth-like storytelling production at Rec Room in Houston. With the help of co-host, Kathryn Way, and a growing list of LGBTQ community storytellers, Story Hole, now in it's third iteration, has become a hot ticket show for audiences to experience some open and honest sharing. We chatted with Ryan about the creation of Story Hole, its future, and what makes Houston unique to him.
What gave you the idea to create a show like Story Hole?
After Trump became President I was in deep, deep despair. I just did not want anything to do with politics, however politics consumed a large part of my life as a queer person. I realized that my gayness was constantly being politicized when I was out publicly; so I decided to change that. I chose to create a space where queer people could come together and share and laugh and be totally safe and NOT political. Just a space where we can be ourselves and have a break. Story Hole is politics free.
How did the logistics come about?
Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Matt Hune opened Rec Room, a great little theatre in downtown. Stephanie told me they were looking for content to present. RecRoom is known for being a place that hosts performances that are a little different than what is expected. She thought the idea sounded great.
Initially the show was going to have stories focused more on sexy adult stories but then it evolved into a showcase of all types of stories. The only requirements: the storytellers identify as LGBTQ, the stories have to relate to their experience as an LGBTQ person, and the stories tie into a theme. Each show has a different theme. The newest show on April 5 is "Let's Fight!"
How were the themes chosen?
They develop organically. For "Let's Fight!" the theme was inspired by a story my friend told me about their ex trying to get them arrested. As I recruit the cast it starts to become pretty clear whether the theme has traction. For instance the second show was originally themed "Holidays" but then Harvey happened and all these stories started coming out about hurricanes. So we changed it to "Holidays and Hurricanes" - because sometimes holidays feel like nature disasters. By the way, my friend with the arrest story is one of the performers for the show on April 5.
Were you nervous about the very first show?
Oh gosh, yes. Not only did I organize the thing but I was telling a very personal story. I knew that it would be a funny night but I was surprised with how much it resonated with the audience. We sold out both shows. In fact, people that went to the 8 p.m. show bought tickets to see the 10 p.m. show again. It was crazy. So many people came up to me after and told me about how great it was to be in a space where they could be unapologetically queer. Sort of like if you go to Provincetown, MA, but closer and way less expensive.
What was the reaction from the audience?
As the shows have gone on and Story Hole has gained a following I have more audience members approach me about becoming a performer. During the first show I had to twist people's arms to perform, so I am glad that is easier. But the audiences are great. They laugh, and cry, and have a great time. Also, ticket sales were tougher for the first two shows. For the April 5 show tickets are about 2/3 sold out and the show is over a month away. That's progress.
What does the future look like for Story Hole?
I am developing a podcast for Story Hole. I think it is a great format. It's just a matter of finding the time to do it. I don't get paid to do Story Hole. It's all volunteer based. We also have an Instagram that we want people to follow and we have a Facebook Page. I try to update them pretty frequently, especially if there is a show coming up. Shows are quarterly.
What’s your favorite thing about Houston?
And what advice would you give a queer person visiting Houston for the first time?
I want them to eat all of the tacos. I want them to visit the Rodeo. I want them to come and see Story Hole. That might take a few trips, but it will all be worth it.